What do you do when in the space of two short years you’ve gone from talent show hopefuls to the biggest boyband of a generation? For the four young lads that make up JLS the answer is simple – keep your feet firmly on the ground and keep heading for the stars.
With their aptly-titled second album OUTTA THIS WORLD primed on pop’s launch pad and about to rocket their already stellar success to even greater heights – Aston, Marvin, Oritsé and JB are primed and ready to backflip their way into the nation’s hearts once more.
Working with a roll call of international pop-R&B production talent - who’s collective CVs take in chart juggernauts by the likes of Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Black Eyed Peas and more - the lads have crafted 14 killer tracks ranging from heart-pumping techno-laced stompers to tender acoustic balladry. Simply put, they’ve taken the blueprint created by their hugely successful debut and blown it out of the water.
“We’re still a young band with a lot to prove,” says Marvin. “We had to prove ourselves every week on The X Factor, then we had to prove we were proper recording artists with our first album. Now we want to prove that wasn’t just a fluke, we’re here to stay.”
The guys talk excitedly about ‘upping their game’ and ‘evolution’ on their new album and they’re not wrong. Co-writing all the tracks (bar midsummer chart topper ‘The Club Is Alive’) the guys display the full range of their talents from the smooth close harmonies of ‘Other Side Of The World’ (which winningly nods towards 90s soul heroes Babyface and Boyz II Men with the lads sharing lovestruck lead vocals) to kinetic future pop like the take-no-prisoners floor filler ‘Superhero’.
Flying to New York to work with red hot chart wizards Stargate (the force behind monster hits for Beyoncé, Flo Rida and more) the union has produced some of the album’s most forward-thinking pop nuggets, including the frankly brilliant title track ‘Outta This World’ - a muscular electro-fuelled heavy hitter that simply screams future single - and band favourite ‘Love At War.’
“We were a bit apprehensive meeting Stargate at first - they’re used to working with huge megastars and we’re not in that league yet,” explains Aston. “But it was important for us to prove ourselves. We didn’t just want to take beats they’d already worked on, we wanted to start from scratch and make something that really represented where we’re at.”
One of those tracks is the pumping R&B club stormer ‘Work’ – in which the lads express their love for the ladies (“we’re four young lads and all like different girls. What can I say?” says JB matter of factly) by cheekily name-checking the world’s biggest divas including Christina, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. “I think if we’re having fun in the studio you can hear that in the tracks, and believe me we always have fun,” says Oritsé.
Given their current status as crowned princes of British pop, it’s hard to believe how rapid the ascent of JLS has been. It was less than four years ago the lads, all dreaming of their own ways in make it in the music industry, came together thanks to Oritsé‘s unswerving vision of creating the ultimate boyband.
“When we first got together we wrote a list of over 300 things we wanted to achieve and everytime we met up to rehearse we would go through it and focus on what we would accomplish that week,” reveals Oritsé. “We weren’t messing around – it was all or nothing.”
That combination of raw talent, effortless charm, unfaltering focus, hard graft and just a little bit of luck saw them rapidly ascend from bagging Best Unsigned Act at the Urban Music Awards 2007 to taking their aim at the heart of the mainstream in the country’s biggest TV talent marathon the following year. “From the underground to the overground,” as Oritsé succinctly puts it.
What followed is, as they say, history – and ticked more than a few boxes on the group’s pop phenomenon ‘to do’ list: Duet with Take That. Make top music industry connections. Sign major label deal. By the time they got to ‘Release debut single’ and ‘Have first number one’ in one fell swoop, it’s pretty safe to say that JLS had well and truly arrived.
“We knew that first single was really crucial to how people saw us,” says Marvin. “Maybe people were expecting a black Westlife or something like that. That’s why we came with ‘Beat Again’ – I think it surprised a few people.”
Their success has been staggering. Three UK number one singles. Over 4 times platinum debut album. Two 2009 MOBO Awards. Two 2010 BRIT trophies. All in the first year of their recording careers. For any band that would be astounding. For a band unashamed of the word ‘pop’ and happy to embrace their boyband credentials, it’s unheard of.
“It’s been crazy. Earlier this year we were opening for Usher, and I was thinking ‘wow his was the first album I ever bought back in the day and now we’re on the same stage!’” says Aston. “Just a year before that we were Lemar’s opening act. It’s moving so fast.”
Along the way they’ve gathered famous supporters from Judi Dench to Jay-Z (his prediction the band would be as big as ‘N Sync seems more prophetic every day) and a fanbase that stretches from six to sixty year olds.
“If I had to put my finger on it I think people can see the genuine bond we have between us,” says Marvin of the unique connection the band have. “We genuinely are best friends and genuinely love what we do and that’s something you can’t manufacture. It’s real.”
And with their new single ‘Love You More’ the boys have created the kind of universal love letter that’s sure to be taken straight to the heart of the masses. If you thought in ‘Everybody In Love’ the boys had found their signature love ballad, think again. Beginning with a haunting lone piano refrain, ‘Love You More’ builds and builds to sky-scraping proportions. ‘Anthemic’ barely does it justice. And what’s more, they’ve decided to give away all their proceeds to this year’s Children In Need campaign.
“We didn’t think twice about it when the opportunity came up,” says JB. “We’ve all supported different charities since day one - that’s why we set up our own JLS Foundation. Just today we spent three hours with ill kids for the Rays of Sunshine charity. It’s brilliant to be able to do stuff like that. We’ve been given an incredible opportunity by the British public and want to give back.”
So if you thought a typical day in the life of JLS was all VIP parties, Cristal and girls you’d be wrong. Okay maybe just a little, but these boys are busy. There’s the recording sessions, TV appearances, sell out gigs, dance rehearsals, gym training on top of the screaming fans, tabloid rumour mill, paparazzi stakeouts…
“To be honest we try not to think about the fame because then you get above your station,” says Aston. “It’s best to try not to get sucked into the hype too much. It’s about the music and everything else is a bonus.”
“The best thing is to feel the public are on your side. After the kind of exposure we had from X Factor, I think people feel they know us and want us to do well,” says Marvin. “And that’s a great feeling.”